Three years after embarking on a Make Do and Mend Life, it’s occurred to me that this is a post I’ve never written, and really should have: Why did we embark on our year of Buying Nothing New, and why do we continue to endeavour to live a pre-loved life?
I’ll start with a short bit about why we started our year, and then give ten reasons why buying nothing new is awesome, and we should all be doing it (bring on the revolution!!)
I get asked a lot what prompted me to want to see if we could spend a year without buying anything new.
I think it was a succession of little things, and there was a lightbulb moment, but I don’t think I was really looking at the big picture. I didn’t really see how Buying Nothing New tied into lots of the bigger problems affecting the world.
BigSmall was 3 at the time, and I remember very clearly suddenly realising that he was already tuned into our societal desire for ‘new stuff’. He had somehow taken on board the message that we need new stuff, more stuff, all the time. And he very vocally demanded it! It shocked me, that our society, or maybe our parenting, had made a three year old want new stuff, all the time. Had made him feel like his life would be better if he just had that new toy car, or that magazine.
I know now that it’s probably entirely normal 3 year old behaviour, but I still wonder where it comes from. Is it hard wired into our hunter gatherer DNA, or have we created it somehow?
At around the same time, I read an article about someone embarking on a Secondhand Safari, and that was the lightbulb moment. The moment when I suddenly thought “Oooh, I wonder if we could do that?” In true me style, I jumped in with both feet.
Looking back, I think I was more than a little naive. I just thought it would be quite a fun challenge. I hadn’t really thought much about ‘why’, or even ‘how’. But I learned so much during that year.
So much about what is wrong with our modern Western way of life, our economic system, our supply chains, and our throwaway attitude to the planet’s precious resources.
And so much about what we all as individuals can do to make change, to make a better world, to create ripples.
: We are running out of resources
This has to be number 1.
We live on a finite planet, yet we consume as if the resources we are using are infinite.
I’ve written before about Earth Overshoot Day-it marks the point in the year when we have consumed a year’s worth of resources. It’s getting earlier and earlier each year-when I first wrote about it in 2013, it was on the 20th august. In 2015 it happened on August 13th.
Globally we use up 1.6 planet’s worth of resources, and in the West, we use anywhere between and 3 and 4 planet’s worth, with our wasteful ways.
When we go about our daily lives, and look around the High St, it can be hard to believe that we are rapidly approaching a time of scarcity. It feels very much like we living in a time of abundance, here in the developed world, and we are able to pretend that the effects of our over-consumption aren’t really happening. They are happening, they are just happening where we don’t see it, or where we don’t like to look.
: You learn to appreciate what you already have
When you know that it’s going to take a little bit more time and effort to find the thing that you want, you appreciate what you already have even more. You give more time to the concept that maybe you could ‘make do’ with what you already have.
It works especially well for clothes. I’m 4 months into my No New Clothes Challenge, and one of my hopes when I started was that it would force me to wear more of the things in my wardrobe. I want to see what happens when I get thoroughly bored of my clothes, and to get inventive and really make use of, and appreciate, every item I own.
: You learn new skills
Prior to My Make Do and Mend Year, I could sew, but if a button fell off, I would hand it over to my mother in law to sew back on (yes, I am embarrassed to admit that now!).
I forced myself to try things that for some reason had always somehow scared me. I patched trousers (endlessly), I darned socks, and yes, I sewed on buttons!
If you don’t know how to do something, the internet is an amazing resource (as is my Back to Basics e-book 😉 ), or ask around your friends and family-you might be surprised at the hidden skills people might have that would be prepared to share with you.
: You get a very smug feeling when you fix something
I’m not going to lie, there is something very smug making about fixing stuff. It’s one of the best feelings. In fact, sugru had a campaign going at one point called “The Joy of Fix”..!
Your heart sinks when something breaks, but if you can salvage it and mend it, it’s very empowering. I tend to go for function over appearance when mending, and am a big fan of visible mending. We should all be ‘out and proud’ with our mends-it starts a conversation, and it’s how the ripples start to spread 🙂
: You get to discover new ‘retail outlets’
We were not a family of thrifters.
If we wanted something new, we wouldn’t really give much thought to it, other than where we could get it cheapest. We would head straight for the High St, or Ikea, or look online for bargains, but it never occurred to us that there might be ‘another way’.
Once we embarked on My Make Do and Mend Year, we had to find other places to source the things we needed (or wanted). And to my surprise and delight there was an abundance of places to explore, and we could find what we wanted pretty easily. If the thought of ‘secondhand’ doesn’t really appeal, try calling it ‘vintage’ or ‘pre-loved’, suddenly things become a whole lot more desirable..!
: You get to express your own individuality
Once you step away from the High St and the chain stores, you get to explore your own sense of style and individuality.
You don’t have to worry about this season’s latest fashions, or the latest interiors trends. You get to pick only the things that ‘spark joy’, to coin a phrase from tidying guru Marie Kondo.
And you can afford to buy better quality too, as it’s nearly always cheaper to buy secondhand than it is to buy new.
Having previously been a bit scared of auction houses, I started to visit our local one during My Make Do and Mend Year, and was amazed at the amount, and quality, of the furniture on offer, all for less than it would cost you to buy the equivalent in say Ikea. And it was proper solid stuff.
If you can’t find quite what you are looking for, then this is another chance to express your own style, and ‘upcycle’ it: for furniture you can strip it back and re-paint it, and change the knobs to create a completely unique piece; and for clothes, something really simple like changing the buttons can do wonders to change the look of a garment.
: You save money
This was never really a motivating factor for us, but was a very well received ‘by product’ of Buying Nothing New!
I think it’s a great ‘entry point’ for a lot of people, who maybe aren’t that bothered about the planet (I know! There are some people out there…) but are bothered about ways they can save money. Hubby is more focussed on the money saving angle than I am, and to be honest I think it’s the bit about Buying Nothing New that he likes the best. If it was costing us money to be more environmentally conscious, I don’t think he would be as keen. On some levels this frustrates me. It seems like such a no brainer to me, such a big thing that we should all be taking action on. But I can also understand that most people won’t want to do something that will end up costing them more money.
The good news is that Buying Nothing New saves you money. And it can be quite a lot.
I estimated that we saved about £2000 over our year of Buying Nothing New. That’s not an insignificant amount of money, and we did it without feeling deprived, or making our lives any harder.
: You discover a whole community of amazing people, waiting to cheer you on, help you out, and change the world
One of the things I never really expected when we started our journey, was all the wonderful people I would meet along the way, both online and in real life.
It really feels to me like a community has built up around this blog, and I love how we all support and encourage each other in our baby steps, and in the changes we are making to our lives.
The Facebook group keeps on going from strength to strength, and is such a mine of information and expertise! And every Thursday, I never fail to have my spirits lifted by our #makedoandmendhour Twitter chat.
In ‘real life’ as well, I’ve met people through Repair Cafes, and Mending groups, and can honestly say that the Make Do and Mend community is a very lovely one to be a part of.
: You become a change maker
By stopping and thinking a bit about what you are buying, by choosing to say “No” to fast fashion, and mass produced disposable goods, by choosing to buy less and buy better, you are giving out a message about the kind of world you want. When you say “No” to fast fashion and two t-shirts for £5, you are telling the world, and the big companies, and our political leaders, that want something different. That you don’t want to support companies who pay kids to make us cheap clothes. That you don’t want cheap clothes that can be thrown away rather than go to the effort of washing them (I have actually heard of this happening-it made me want to cry). That you want a different world.
Your choices matter. Your choices create change.
When you choose to make do with something you already have, or to mend something that has broken, you are making a choice. A good choice. One that is changing the world. Choice by choice.
: You create ripples
Just making a start, making one small change to how you live your life, is like dropping a pebble into a lake. It makes a ripple.
Just subbing one pre-loved item, for one new one, will make a difference.
Making that one change, that one substitution, will make you more likely to do it again. And again. And again.
And then when your friends says “Wow, I love that top! Where did you get it from?”, and you get to smile slightly smugly and reply “Oh, I picked this up in the charity shop”, you start cogs whirring, and the ripples start to spread…
Hopefully that’s inspired a few people to give it a go.
If you Buy Nothing New, some of the time, or all of the time, I’d love to hear your reasons!